The price of paraffin – used especially by the poor – has skyrocketed in Nelson Mandela Bay, where bulk supply has dried up and now has to be trucked in.
Wholesalers previously used to source their paraffin from the fuel gantries at the Port Elizabeth Harbour.
Abdul Abrahams, of Lube & Diesel Alliances in Sydenham, said he had to dispatch trucks to East London every day to collect stock and had to factor the transport costs into his paraffin prices.
“The problem has been going on for about three years now,” Abrahams said.
“At first, we tried sourcing supplies in Mossel Bay but the gantry there was too small to meet our demand.
“Now we’re getting it from Engen in East London and the transport cost for each truck for one round trip is a minimum of R1 800.
“To offset that, we have to sell our paraffin at R7.50 a litre, where we sold it for R6.60 before.”
Each truck brought in 4 000l from East London, but the demand doubled as winter set in.
“Through the four winter months in 2015, I sold 1.4 million litres and, last year, I sold a million,” he said.
Abrahams said his customers included middlemen, who bought 1 000 to 2 000 litres at a time to sell to township outlets, and businesses trying to avoid unnecessary electricity costs.
Businesses like laundries used paraffin to fire their boilers and bakeries used it for their ovens.
Nigel Fox, of PE Fuels, said his company was also having to source paraffin from East London.
“The transport costs are adding on 30-40c a litre. Margins are low with paraffin so we’re compelled to pass these costs on.”
Fox said he understood that the paraffin harbour supply infrastructure needed maintenance work done.
“My feeling is that with the move out to [the Port of] Ngqura imminent, they [bulk suppliers] don’t want to spend money on this and that’s why it’s not being done.”
Fox confirmed that PE Fuels also experienced a surge in demand for paraffin in winter.
“Besides the transport costs, my concern is that we’re going to hit shortages soon in East London,” he said.
Shell SA external relations manager Hemant Lala said the company was in the process of repairing its paraffin supply tank.
Abrahams said he had been unable to get paraffin from the Port Elizabeth harbour since mid-2014, but Lala said Shell had taken its tank out of operation about 15 months ago.
“Significant corrosion is being repaired and it should be back in operation in three to six months time,” he said.
Walmer Township resident Nontobeko Fansi, 45, said the increase in the price of paraffin was tough, especially as most people were unemployed.
Fansi said residents in informal areas bought paraffin for primus stoves, which they used both for cooking and to heat up their houses.
Paraffin at the nearest spaza shop sold for R11 a litre, she said.
“I do not feel good that there is an increase in the price of paraffin – a commodity which we use on a daily basis,” she said.
“It would have been better if we were still residing in the rural areas, where people use firewood for cooking.
“Unfortunately for us here, we use the very same wood to build our informal houses.”
Zonke Xula, 50, said she and her three children were unable to sleep in their two-bedroom shack without paraffin.
“It’s like killing two birds with one stone – we use the primus stove for cooking meals and, at the same time, it is used to warm up the shack before we go to sleep,” she said.
“We hope that the paraffin will be freely available in PE and that [it] will automatically bring the price down.”
Mohamed Ali, 32, an employee at one of the spaza shops in the township, said paraffin was in great demand this time of the year.
“Since the [colder weather] kicked in, there has been an increased demand,” he said.
“There is no fixed price. I charge R10 a litre, while others charge R11.50 and so on.
“The guy who supplies it comes here two or three times a week.”